Saved by Baptism or Faith?

Question from a Site Viewer
First I would like to let you know a little about my position. I am a Baptist. I believe that salvation is in Jesus alone. I have a family member that was recently baptized into the Church of Christ. He was a Baptist and still struggles with whether or not baptism saves. He asked if I would come over and study the Bible with him, his pastor, and a few other Church of Christ members. I made the argument that eis can have a causal relation to remission of sins. His pastor did agree that Mathew 12:41 did appear to be “because of” but certainly wasn’t swayed and presented many arguments from their side of the issue. His pastor made a couple of points I found to be amazing. One point was that he believes the main issue with Baptists and others is that “The Baptists teach that Jesus saves. Someone will come to the altar and ask Jesus to save them and you teach them they are saved. They are not saved and can’t be saved if they don’t understand that baptism is what gives remission of sins.”

I said, “I was baptized in the manner that your members are baptized. Is that enough to be saved? I obeyed the command to be baptized after I believed.”

He said, “No, if you believed Jesus saved you, that is not a saving faith. Baptism is what remits sin.”

As noted earlier, I found this to be rather amazing. The other significant point was that he believed in only a representative indwelling of the Spirit and not a literal indwelling. I believe this is significant because every verse mentioning baptism was interpreted by him to be water baptism.

Now to my question. Sorry for rambling. I really liked your argument for eis. It was one of the better ones that I have seen. There is one point that you didn’t touch on that greatly interests me. I have heard and read arguments from baptismal regeneration believers that if eis means because of in Acts 2:38 then so does repent because they are connected with and. How would you deal with this argument? I am trying hard to come up with the most reasonable responses to these questions. I don’t want to twist anything but obviously that is what we are accused of time after time. It is interesting that the CoC comes up with some “around the world” arguments on Acts 10 and then accuses us of twisting things in Acts 2.

Tim’s Answer
Thank you for your question. The linkage between repentance and the forgiveness of sins in Scripture varies depending on the passages. We can go to passages such as Luke 17:2-3 and see a clear cause/consequence relationship between repentance and forgiveness of sins. 1 John 1:9 seems to convey a similar relationship although the term “repentance” is not used in that passage. Paul’s description of his charge on the Damascus road conveys the same cause/consequence relationship (Acts 26:17–18—to turn from darkness to light that they may receive forgiveness of sins).

We can go to other passages where repentance and forgiveness of sins seem to be related, though distinct, ideas without any sense of a cause/consequence relationship. Thus, in Luke 24:47, Jesus tells His disciples that “repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations.” In Acts 5:31, both repentance and remission are both said to be matters to be given to Israel. There is no cause/consequence stated or implied in these passages. They seem to be co-equal subjects that are proclaimed.

There are other passages that seem to convey a relationship where the forgiveness of sins is a cause of the repentance. Principally, this starts with the ministry of John the Baptist. In Luke 1:77, we are told that John’s mission was to give the knowledge of salvation “en” the remission of their sins. Most translations translate this little Greek preposition as “by” which is the instrumental idea and is a common use of the Greek preposition. Stated another way, the preposition functions to tell us that the remission of sins is the instrument by which either salvation comes or the knowledge of salvation comes (the noun to which the preposition should be attached is not clear). In either case, however, this would make the forgiveness of sins the means by which salvation or the knowledge of salvation comes. This is in line with the Scriptural position that faith comes from the proclamation of the gospel. Christ on the cross took away the sin of the world (John 1:29; Hebrews 1:3; 9:26, 28; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18; 1 John 2:2; 3:5). It is the proclamation of this message (1 Corinthians 15:3) that is the instrument by which people are saved (1 Corinthians 15:2). Thus, Paul in Antioch of Pisidia preaches the forgiveness of sins (Acts 13:38) to a people who had not yet repented.

Given the above passages, I can support from Scripture a position that repentance leads to the forgiveness of sins and I can also support from Scripture a position that the forgiveness of sins leads to repentance. Stated another way, the proclamation of Christ’s forgiveness of our sins leads us to repentance which then brings about the application of that forgiveness to our accounts. Or, in the words of the Apostle Paul, God in Christ has reconciled us to Himself (a past act) and has given us the word of reconciliation (a present proclamation of the past act) (2 Corinthians 5:19-20). The reconciliation from God to us, that is the sin problem, has been resolved. We proclaim this message. People hear and respond which brings about their reconciliation to God (the application of the forgiveness to their accounts). There is a reception of the forgiveness of sins that follows repentance and belief (see also Acts 10:43—whoever believes will receive the remission of sins).

I come back to the passage in Acts 2:32 and the similar passage in Acts 3:19 which also employs the preposition “eis.” The relationship that Peter and the Holy Spirit meant us to understand between repentance and forgiveness seems to me to be the same as the relationship between baptism and forgiveness. If, as Zacharias stated and Luke recorded, the proclamation of John the Baptism was one of forgiveness of sins being the instrument that leads to salvation (or the knowledge thereof) as set forth above, then it seems most likely that Peter, Luke, and the Holy Spirit intended us to understand this same relationship in the Acts passages. As noted in our article, “The Translation of “Eis” in Acts 2:38, there are many reasons why the proclamation of John the Baptist should guide our interpretation of the Acts passage. Therefore, I see the forgiveness of sins in Acts 2:32 as being causative for repentance in the same way that it is causative for salvation in Luke 1:77.

Accordingly, I have no problem connecting repentance and baptism with an “and” and seeing their relationship with forgiveness as being the same. It is the forgiveness of our sins found in Christ that leads us to repentance and to baptism.

Again, this is not to deny also the Scriptural teaching that repentance leads to the forgiveness of sins. It is simply to acknowledge that at least two truths are taught in Scripture on the relationship of these two matters and there are strong reasons for seeing Acts 2:32 and Acts 3:19 as reflecting the truth of Luke 1:77.

I acknowledge that such interpretation is not standard. The New King James Version, the New American Standard Version, the New International Version, and the New English Translation all translate the relationship in Acts 3:19 as being repentance so that they might receive the forgiveness of sins. I do not know why the translators translate this “eis” more definitively than the rather generic “for” in Acts 2:32, since both are in similar grammatical structures and relate to similar thoughts. But for me, the reasons set forth in the aforementioned article for interpreting “eis” in Acts 2:32 as “because of” are compelling, the problems of treating it otherwise are great from a grammatical and from a theological point of view, and the close connection between Acts 2:32 and John the Baptist’s proclamation lead me to believe that it is the truth of our forgiveness of sins that Peter is proclaiming as the basis for repentance.

I encourage charity towards those who believe otherwise. As I have often said, none of us have our theology completely right. God delights that we seek to know Him and He uses those whose hearts desire His dear Son, despite our deficient theology, for which I am very grateful. But I am somewhat distressed that a minister of the gospel would promote a teaching that we should have faith in our baptism for salvation. No teaching of Scripture supports that view. Always, faith is in Jesus for salvation. Jesus Himself taught us that if we believe in Him, we will not perish. There is only one name by which we may be saved. I would encourage your Church of Christ friend not to be drawn away into the rituals of one’s religion.

Thanks again for your note. I hope the above has been helpful. May the Lord Jesus continue to guide you into His love,

a fellow pilgrim,


One thought on “Saved by Baptism or Faith?”

  1. You are making a very common error in your thinking. You assume that a verse must be translated wrong when it does not fit your theology. This is a major issue in the “faith only” sect. They will use many verses that say that we are saved by faith and from this will built a religion based on a general statement, but when confronted with more detailed scriptures the answer is always, “well that can not be right because that does not fit with my acceptance of the general statement.” This is why it is so hard to help someone caught up in the “faith only” mind set. I accept EVERY passage in the Bible that states that we need faith to be saved. I never need a multi paragraph discourse to explain it away, it is what it is. I also accept the more detailed passages that state the need to obey and feel no need to blame translations or to explain away those verses that should not exist, Acts 2:38, Mark 16:16, 1st Peter 3:21, Acts 22:16 etc. Without the effort to knock the door will not open!

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